European History – Were the Bourbon Royal Family to blame for the Revolution?
The French Revolution in 1789 has often been blamed on the Bourbon family themselves, including Louis XIV, XV and XVI, and their debt as well as increasingly negative public opinion. Can we really say they brought it upon themselves?
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The Financial Crisis
Caused by Louis XIV, and continued by Louis XV, Frnace was on teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. This lack of money was a major cause for the French Revolution, lenders would even refuse the French Government money, only to be forced by the crown to lend.
Wars were a great drain on the money the crown had to spend, supporting America during the French Revolution was a cost France could have easily avoided, in a time when they were (although limited) were starting to recover, however war after war meant finances never recovered and France owed nearly two billion Livres [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution]].
The high expenditure of the French crown including famously Marie Antoinette, meant the political nation was alienated by the large amount of money spent on her apparent gambling, amongst other negative connections to her [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Antoinette_of_France#1782.E2.80.931785:_Declining_popularity]].
The economy in France in the 100 years before the revolution (bar Louis XIV reign) could never be said was in it's prime. Although industry was booming, argriculture was in decline and many people suffered for this, particularly peasants. There was widespread famine and malnutrition as well as spread of disease. [[http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/causes-of-the-french-revolution/famine.html]]
It was only the sheer size of France and it's large population that made it such a large economic power, as France had 5.3 million of Europe's 30 million male peasants (quite a large proportion). [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_the_French_Revolution]]
The Failure Of Reforms
During Louis XIV's reign many significant reforms made lasted until after the French revolution, as Louis XV and XVI failed to make significant reforms. Especially in the areas of tax. Peasants were taxed too highly, whereas Nobles (the second estate) were virtually exempt of paying any taxes at all! [[http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture11a.html]]
The reforms that were attempted (the appointment of Turgot, Necker) both ultimately failed in trying to keep the crown in check, trying to get them to spend less. They both also attempted to revise the tax systems which also ultimately failed. [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_the_French_Revolution#Failure_of_reforms]]
The Change In Opinion
With writers like Voltaire, Montesquieu amongst others writing about freedoms which were very rare in any country in Europe. Despite this however opinion of the Political nation began to change, not just in France but in other European countries. People weren't sick of a Royal Family particularly the Bourbons, they were just tired of that particular system of Government.
This affected not just royalty but the aristocracy as a whole and the whole system of privilage, novels such as Choderlos de Lactos' Les Liaisons dangereuses and Austin Caron de Beaumarchais' play The Marriage of Figaro (turned into an opera by Mozart) were attacks on the ruling classes that reached the masses (or at least the middle sort) helping to radicalise them.
The Philosphes did not directly cause the French revolution but they did question the assumptions upon which the system of the time rested.[[H. G. Koenigsberger, Early Modern Europe, 1500-1789, (Longman, Harlow, 1987) pp.317-318]]
What do you think?